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Sports College football winners and losers: Texas, Alabama notch statement wins; Oklahoma disappoints

05:05  05 september  2021
05:05  05 september  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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Five games featuring teams in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. A preseason College Football Playoff contender put on the ropes by a team from the Group of Five. A matchup in prime time between two of the best teams in the country.

The 2021 college football season is already at top speed after a Week 1 slate full of implications for the College Football Playoff and the national championship.

For one, No. 1 Alabama's brutal rout of No. 16 Miami (Fla.) showed a team in midseason form. But for the Hurricanes, the loss shows the gap between being in contention for the New Year's Six and taking the step into true playoff contention.

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a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Longhorns fans celebrate in the second half against the Ragin' Cajuns. © Scott Wachter, USA TODAY Sports Longhorns fans celebrate in the second half against the Ragin' Cajuns.

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No. 3 Oklahoma cruised into halftime against Tulane but barely held on for a close win. In the Big Ten, a throwback game between No. 20 Penn State and No. 15 Wisconsin wasn't settled until the final minutes.

Those games and others lead the winners and losers from the first full Saturday of the 2021 season:

WINNERS

Penn State

While not a masterpiece, the 16-10 win against Wisconsin reflects Penn State's internal optimism that last year's 4-5 finish was far more the product of the pandemic than any downturn from James Franklin's program. There are still issues to address, beginning with the health of an offense still working out the details under new coordinator Mike Yurcich. While quarterback Sean Clifford rallied to throw for 247 yards and a score, the Nittany Lions ran for only 50 yards on 1.8 yards per carry, with a big chunk of that total coming via a 34-yard gain from running back Noah Cain. Clifford did avoid turnovers, however, and that meant the difference in a narrow win.

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Texas

The Steve Sarkisian era got off on the right foot with a 38-18 win against No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette, the preseason favorite in the Sun Belt and one of the best teams in the Group of Five. The Longhorns got a good performance from first-year starting quarterback Hudson Card, who finished with 224 yards and two scores. Sarkisian drew up a game plan for running back Bijan Robinson, who played up to expectations with 103 yards on the ground, 73 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Few teams had a more impressive win in Week 1.

Kansas State

After a disappointing 2020 season defined by injuries at several key positions, Kansas State kicked off September with an impressive 24-7 win against Stanford in Arlington, Texas. With senior quarterback Skyler Thompson back under center after missing most of last year, the Wildcats ran for 200 yards on 6.5 yards per carry and averaged 10.3 yards per pass attempt.

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Alabama

The superstars from the 2020 team are gone. Alabama still didn't miss a beat. Paced by quarterback Bryce Young, who completed 71% of his throws for 344 yards and four touchdowns, the Crimson Tide whipped Miami 44-13 to kick off the program's latest championship push. If Saturday is any indication, the Tide are ready to make another run at perfection.

Louisiana-Monroe

The Warhawks lost again, this time 45-10 to Kentucky, to extend the program's losing streak to 12 games. But a funny thing happened on the way to another defeat: ULM actually led the Wildcats 7-0 in the first quarter. Why is that meaningful? Because that marked the Warhawks' first lead at any point against any opponent since late in the fourth quarter of a 31-30 loss to rival Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 30, 2019. That makes new coach Terry Bowden's debut a success.

LOSERS

Wisconsin

The missed opportunities against PSU will force the Badgers to play from behind in the race for the West division. Not that the loss is fatal by any means: Wisconsin has plenty of chances to rally back into Big Ten and playoff contention with future games against Notre Dame, Michigan and Iowa. Whether this team can make a run hinges on quarterback Graham Mertz and the running game. For one, there is a wide gap between the hype surrounding Mertz and the reality of his performance; he tossed two picks on Saturday, giving him seven against four touchdowns in his past seven starts.

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Oklahoma

Too close. Way too close. The No. 3 Sooners sneaked past Tulane 40-35 and raised some eyebrows along the way, especially given the preseason expectations for the OU defense. On the other side of the ball, early Heisman Trophy favorite Spencer Rattler threw for 309 yards but two interceptions, while the Sooners only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Up 37-14 at halftime, OU brought zero energy out of the locker room and barely survived — Tulane even had the ball with a chance to win before turning it over on downs with just over a minute remaining.

What does this mean for OU? In the long run, no one will remember this narrow win come November and December, when the playoff selection committee goes through the process of choosing the nation's best four teams. But in terms of a takeaway, the lesson for OU is to keep its foot on the gas.

Miami (Fla.)

There is no embarrassment in losing to Alabama. There's not even any real embarrassment in being blown out by the Crimson Tide; it happens to more teams than not. But given the Hurricanes' growth in 2020 under coach Manny Diaz and the team's place among the top three teams in the ACC, to be picked clean by the Crimson Tide is a painful reminder of how far Miami is removed from being a real contender for the national championship. That's not embarrassing, but it is a sobering reality for the Hurricanes.

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Indiana

Last year's Cinderella story in the Big Ten, No. 17 Indiana's 34-6 loss to No. 18 Iowa splashes a bucket of cold water on the Hoosiers' hopes of putting another scare into Ohio State in the Big Ten East. The win says something about Iowa, too — that the Hawkeyes, winners of six in a row to end last year, are a legitimate contender for the New Year's Six. But the Hoosiers committed three turnovers, gained just 233 yards and were outplayed by a wide margin by a fellow Big Ten team in the Top 25.

Connecticut

The Huskies are an easy pick for the worst team in the FBS after losing to Holy Cross 38-28 to fall to 0-2 on the young season. As in the 45-0 loss to Fresno State to get things started, UConn's offense was abysmal: 262 total yards, 2.3 yards per carry and four turnovers. With the loss, coach Randy Edsall falls to 6-34 in his second tenure with the program.

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football winners and losers: Texas, Alabama notch statement wins; Oklahoma disappoints

College football polls: Updated AP Top 25, Coaches Poll rankings after Week 1 .
Breaking down the top 25 in both the AP and Coaches polls following the first week of action.As always, that starts with Alabama, which looked every bit the No. 1 team in the nation after demolishing No. 14 Miami 44-13. First-time starting quarterback Bryce Young showed no significant dropoff from Mac Jones in his debut, and the defense looked better than it has in years. But the Crimson Tide aren't the only powerful team this year.

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